What the President’s Creating Pathways to Opportunity Report Says About Adult Literacy

Last week the White House released a report, Creating Pathways to Opportunity, describing the ways in which, in their view, they have worked to ensure that “all Americans have the tools to weather these difficult economic times and a clear pathway to achieve economic stability and security.”

The report mentions adult literacy in several places. It’s interesting to read where the administration pinpoints adult literacy within the framework of their education and workforce development efforts.

One of the places adult literacy is mentioned is, not surprisingly, in the section on “Building a 21st Century Workforce:”

A lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills is a challenge that must be addressed for many low-income Americans. If individuals who lack these basic skills are ready to acquire them in order to get a job, then we should be ready to provide an entry point through community partnerships with K-12 schools, community colleges, non-profits, and community-based organizations. For students who have not yet learned the basic skills needed to succeed in college or work while they are in high school, community colleges are receiving support to improve remedial and adult education programs, accelerating students’ progress and integrating developmental classes into academic and vocational classes. [page 29]

The other place where adult literacy appears is in the Adminstration’s discussion of the Promise Neighborhoods initiative. In fact, the vignette featured in this section is about how a Promise Neighborhood project in Athens, Georgia, assisted a parent access adult edcuation services:

Mary (name changed), a public housing resident and mother of a two-year-old, was participating in a “Living Room Conversation” on early care and learning, a focus group hosted by a neighborhood leader with Whatever It Takes, the Athens, GA Promise Neighborhood. She strongly and vocally agreed with the other five parents that “reading to your young child is very important.” When the neighborhood leader asked the parents if they read to their children, all but Mary immediately said yes. When pressed, she said that she didn’t, and when asked why, said that she did not know how to read. Her feelings of embarrassment and shame quickly gave way to gratitude as the other parents asked if she wanted to learn how to read and told her that the public adult literacy/GED program had relocated onto the same campus that houses Whatever It Takes. She enrolled in basic literacy class, has a long term goal of obtaining a GED and post-secondary education, and has a short-term goal of reading to her daughter. Due in part to the community outreach efforts of the Athens Promise Neighborhoods, Mary is serving as a role model for her daughter on their path to educational success. [page 33]

In this report, the Administration places adult literacy solely in the context of certain other initiatives it has been championing — expanding the role and capacity of community colleges, and Promise Neighborhoods. Reading this, one would not have a sense of what the U.S. system of adult education looks like — or that there even is one. Instead, adult literacy instruction is described here as an adjunct to other initiatives. In the Promise Neighborhood example, the outreach by the Athens Promise Neighborhood is credited with getting Mary into an adult literacy program, but it’s not clear what the federal role is in funding that program, or the extent of the program’s collaboration with the Athens Promise Neighborhood initiative.

What’s also interesting is that the Administration recognizes — in the this document, anyway — two purposes for adult literacy education: the first, not unexpectedly, is to improve employability; but in addition, in the Promise Neighborhood example, there is a recognition that adults working to improve their literacy has a positive impact on their children.